Fort Hood joined the nation in celebrating the culture and contributions of Native Americans during a ceremony Nov. 16 at Club Hood.
Following years of efforts for official recognition, November has been designated as National Native American Heritage Month since 1994.
This year’s theme, Standing Together, illustrates Native Americans’ and Alaska Natives’ profound influence on our character and our culture, Col. Curtis King, commander, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said.
King noted the heavy contributions Native Americans have made to U.S. military service.
“Since the Revolutionary War, Native Americans have served our military in the highest numbers of any ethnic group and, throughout this honored service, 27 Native Americans have earned the Medal of Honor,” King continued. “This courage and distinction typifies the theme of standing together and is cause for all of us to celebrate the contributions of Native Americans.”
Drummers and dancers from Four Winds Intertribal Society performed traditional dances and songs to
emphasize the importance of music to Native American tribes.
“Music and dancing plays an integral part in the life of virtually every Native American culture,” 1st Sgt. Marcus Robinson, 1st Battalion, 44th Air and Missile Defense Regiment, 69th ADA Bde., said while introducing the performers. “It is a valued tradition used to celebrate their rich and diverse heritage, a means of prayer, a way to re-establish their ties to an old way of life, promote unity within and among various nations and tribes and to express the abundant strength and pride of the Indian nation.”
Guest speaker Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Flyingman, a member of the Kiowa and Cheyenne nations, spoke about the values and ideals shared between Native Americans and the military.
“On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be any real connection between Veterans Day and Native American Heritage Month being in the same month, but when you are more versed in the connection between Native Americans and the military and their service in the military, the connection becomes pretty apparent,” she said. “Modern military honors the warrior mentality of the Native American by bestowing Indian names of tribes and chiefs on some of the most advanced and powerful military aircraft.”
Army helicopters such as the AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook are named after Native American tribes.
Currently, Native Americans enlist at a higher rate per capita than any other racial group, she noted.
Flyingman quoted a War Department report that stated if all Americans had enlisted in World War II at the same rate Native Americans did, there would be no need for selective service.
In 1942, at least 99 percent of all eligible Indians, healthy males, aged 21-44 had registered for the draft, despite only being granted citizenship in 1924.
One of the most well-known Native American contributions to the U.S. military was Code Talkers.
While the Native American Code Talkers are best known, the use of indigenous language to transmit messages dates back to World War I, Flyingman said.
“The premise was very simple,” she said, “use tribal languages to code and transmit messages and protect them from being intercepted.”
Knowing about the use of Native American languages, Hitler sent a team of 30 anthropologists to the U.S. to learn Native American languages before World War II, but the many dialects and languages were too difficult for the team to understand and decipher.
The Navajo language remains the only spoken military code to have never been deciphered, Flyingman said.
“The most easily understood contribution of Native Americans to the military is the warrior’s creed, ‘All others before myself,’” Flyingman said. “American Indians are a tribe of people that believe that the good of the tribe must come before the good of the individual.”
That mindset is shared across all branches of the military
“My time in the military has been the joy of my life, living with a purpose in an environment that mirrors the mindset that I was brought up with,” Flyingman said. “As a Native American woman, if my brothers are going to defend our homeland, I will not be left behind.”
The idea that there is one all-encompassing tradition or characteristic that would describe all Native Americans is a fallacy.
“The way I ask people to look at it is simply that our tribes are from all over the country,” she said. “Our tribes and our backgrounds, our traditions, our ways can be as different from that of a Texas cowboy to an inner city New Yorker.”
Flyingman attends cultural events such as the observance held at Fort Hood to educate others about Native Americans. She speaks in hope of presenting a “more accurate picture of Native Americans.”
There are so many Native Americans who want to share their culture, Flyingman said.
“We are just a small part of that in wanting to help educate about the real, real beauty of our culture,” she said. “I just love talking about my people.”